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An uptick in unruly passengers and disruptive behavior on flights and at airports in the days leading to and following the riots in the U.S. Capitol has led to expeditious changes in federal enforcements for these acts.
Much of that is thanks, in part, to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA International (AFA) representing 50,000 flights attendants at 17 airlines, sounding the alarm and asking for help. But the question remains will these measures still be in effect after things quiet down? Will these new security measures stay in place like many did after 9/11?
These could include new rules concerning firearms in checked bags, to requiring flyers staying seated longer after takeoffs and landings.
“Air travel is safe because everyone follows a strict set of rules, based on the spirit that ‘we’re all in this together.’ The mob mentality behavior that took place on several flights into the D.C. area yesterday was unacceptable and threatened the safety and security of every single person onboard. It will not happen again. There’s a reason that there are strict penalties and fines for failing to comply with crew member instructions. Enforcement keeps everyone safe,” AFA President Sara Nelson said in a statement January 6, the day of the deadly attacks on the U.S. Capitol.
In a video of a late-night flight from Texas to Washington, D.C. Nelson shared with her statement, passengers can be heard shouting, using profanity, using racial and derogatory language and making threats while someone is projecting political photos onto the ceiling and overhead compartments.
After initially issuing a statement on Saturday, supporting cabin crews in their responsibilities to ensure passenger safety from his firsthand experience as a former airline captain and setting the expectation that crew members instructions must be followed, Steve Dickson, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator has signed an order directing a stricter legal enforcement against unruly passengers.
Effective immediately, the FAA will not address these cases with warnings or counseling as it’s done in the past. Instead it will pursue legal enforcement action against any passenger who assaults, threatens, intimidates, or interferes with airline crew members. This policy will be in effect through March 30, 2021.
“Flying is the safest mode of transportation and I signed this order to keep it that way,” Dickson said.
The FAA said it has seen a disturbing increase in incidents where airline passengers have disrupted flights with threatening or violent behavior stemming both from passengers’ refusals to wear masks and from recent violence at the U.S. Capitol.
One of those incidents happened at 30,000 feet, resulting in an uncomfortable experience and the disruptive passenger being escorted off the plane by police on Sunday.
“The flight crew onboard American flight 2198 reported a customer disturbance while en route from Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT) to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). Following multiple requests to comply with mandatory face covering requirements, one passenger stood up and began yelling at flight attendants and surrounding customers,” said American spokeswoman Sarah Jantz. “Federal air marshals intervened to help deescalate and maintain control of the situation for the duration of the flight. The aircraft landed without further incident and was met on arrival by Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police.”
American didn’t identify the unruly passenger. Instead thanking their crew for their professionalism, and confirming the female passenger has been placed on their internal refuse list for customers refusing to comply with their policies or causing a disruption to their operations, pending further investigation.
“The safety and security of passengers and employees is always the top priority of the U.S. airline industry, and we welcome the FAA’s order to implement a more stringent policy regarding unruly passenger behavior. We cannot have any form of dangerous behavior that threatens the safety of passengers and crew members,” said Airlines for America President and CEO Nicolas E. Calio.
As the fallout of the violence at the Capitol that left five people dead including a Capitol police officer continues, and the uncertainty of the upcoming days leading to the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States will bring, tensions are rising and many of the nation’s airports are witnessing disruptive behavior throughout the airport terminals as many who were in D.C. are returning to their hometowns via air travel, while others are being deplaned or denied boarding.
“TSA is always on high alert. We prepare for all contingencies. For security reasons we do not discuss the details other than to confirm that there are always multiple layers of security in place. As it relates to the No Fly list, we will accommodate FBI requests and congressional authorizations related to no fly lists” said spokesperson Janell Goodwin.
Skift reached out to airlines to inquire if anyone who participated in the attempted siege at the Capitol is being added to a No Fly list, but citing security concerns, most declined to comment. However, Southwest said it is continuing to work with the TSA to adhere to any additions or updates on the federal no-fly list to remain aligned on the list.
“If an individual is deemed to be an immediate threat to other airline passengers or to the aircraft, the agencies and local law enforcement at the airport have jurisdiction to detain or arrest the individual, which would effectively prevent them from flying,” said Raushaunah Muhammad, an FBI spokesperson. “Separately, the FBI will continue to nominate predicated subjects to the federal terrorism watchlist, as appropriate, in accordance with existing laws and policies. The TSC [Terrorist Screening Center] will continue to evaluate all nominations to the watchlist to ensure they meet the required criteria for watch listing.”
The safety and security of all passengers and employees is the top priority of U.S. airlines which are always in routine communication with the FAA, TSA and other appropriate law enforcement authorities to prepare for and respond to changing circumstances said Katherine Estep, Airlines for America managing director. They continue to work collaboratively with these authorities and industry partners to provide a safe journey for travelers and employees.
Until the Presidential Inauguration is over, there will be increased police presence at airports across the country, particularly in the Washington, D.C. area and airlines are making adjustments to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew members.
“Weighing the violence we witnessed in the Capitol last week alongside our unwavering commitment to the safety of customers and our people, Delta will not allow firearms in checked baggage for flights into the D.C. area Saturday, Jan. 16 through Saturday, Jan. 23, with the exception of credentialed law enforcement. Customers needing to change travel due this policy or requests from officials asking people not to travel to the inauguration, can do so using our flexible change policy,” said Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant.
Southwest, American, United and Alaska are also not accepting firearms in checked luggage on flights to and from the D.C. area. And in a move reminiscent of post 9/11, Alaska is implementing that all passengers traveling to and from the D.C. metro area must remain seated for one hour after takeoff and one hour prior to landing.
All airlines are actively enforcing mask wearing policies from arrival at the airport to arrival at passenger destinations and working closely with the FAA, TSA and law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance. United said it has banned about 615 people for noncompliance, 60 of which were banned in the week of January 4 alone. Each airline said they will have additional employees at airports to help with enforcing their regulations to ensure passenger safety throughout every phase of their travel journey. In addition, crews will not be staying in hotels in D.C. during this time frame.
Some airlines are offering flexibility in changing flights to and from D.C. during those dates to comply with law enforcement request that people stay away from the nation’s capital, and others like Alaska are only selling a limited number of tickets.
“We don’t ever specifically talk about security protocols publicly, but federal agencies and the airlines are taking this seriously,” Nelson said.
While some of these measures appear to be temporary, it’s clear some of these restrictions will be the new normal for passengers in the U.S.